by By the M&C Staff | November 18, 2009

Last week, Marriott International launched the Autograph Collection, a new brand that will comprise "upper upscale and luxury independent hotels with distinctive personalities in major cities and desired destinations worldwide." Marriott plans to add approximately 25 hotels to the new collection next year. Each will be featured on Marriott's website and included in the Marriott Rewards loyalty program. "The Autograph Collection will take the innovative approach of grouping these iconic hotels according to the unique experience that guests are seeking, whether it's a resort, historic hotel, boutique arts, or urban edge hotel in a dynamic gateway city," said Don Semmler, executive vice president of brand management for Marriott. "Each hotel will be highly unique and distinct with its own identity, appealing to a growing segment of our customers who are looking for an experience that an independent hotel can deliver."

Two Trade Shows to Leave Chicago in 2012
Two trade shows, NPE - The International Plastics Showcase,  and  Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, have announced that they will move their shows from Chicago's McCormick Place in 2012. The International Plastics Showcase, which has been held in Chicago since 1971, will move to Orlando's Orange County Convention, while the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society will meet in Las Vegas in 2012. According to the Trade Show Exhibitor Association, both organizations cited high costs for exhibitors in Chicago as the primary justification for their relocation. In a statement released Tuesday, TSEA applauded the two groups "for finally taking a stand on behalf of exhibitors. There is long way to go until they are afforded the respect they deserve."

Peabody Orlando Hotel Tops Off New Tower
Last Wednesday, the 891-room Peabody Orlando hotel topped off its new 35-story guest-room tower, part of a $450 million renovation project slated for completion in January 2011. The new 690,000-square-foot tower will have 750 rooms. Additional improvements include a 450,000-square-foot expansion of the hotel's convention space, a new 15,000-square-foot spa, several boutiques, a new restaurant and a 2,200-car parking garage. Convention space is scheduled to open in January 2010.

Visit Florida Launches Meeting Stimulus Plan
On Monday, Visit Florida, the tourism marketing corporation for the state, announced the launch of a new meetings stimulus program designed to outline the advantages of holding meetings in Florida and provide incentives for companies to do so. The campaign was topped off this week with a full-page advertisement in USA Today; electronic and print advertising in meetings publications and public relations initiatives will follow. One major aspect is the Meetings and Conventions Quick Action Closing Fund, a grant awarded to new citywide conventions and trade shows held in the state, which will provide planners with destination marketing support to help boost meeting attendance. Additional information is available at The stimulus program was unveiled to attendees at the Florida Encounter trade show, Visit Florida's annual meeting planner event, held Nov. 15-17 at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Fla.

New Puerto Rico Convention Center Hotel Opens
Starwood Hotels & Resorts opened the 503-room Sheraton Puerto Rico Convention Center Hotel & Casino on Monday. Next to the Puerto Rico Convention Center, the Sheraton is the first new full-service hotel and casino built in San Juan in more than a decade. It has 35,000 square feet of meeting space and a 57,000-square-foot pool deck that can be used for outdoor events. Other highlights include the hotel's 20,000-square-foot, smoke-free casino and its 7,000-square-foot spa.

Royal Caribbean Debuts New Cruise Ship
Royal Caribbean International's newest cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, debuted this week at its home port of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The vessel has 2,700 staterooms and features "a neighborhood concept,"which includes seven themed areas: Central Park; Boardwalk; the Royal Promenade; the Pool and Sports Zone; Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center; Entertainment Place, and Youth Zone. The ship has 26 rooms available for meetings and functions.  

Convention Centers

Conference Center Opens in Midtown Manhattan
The Sentry Centers Midtown East conference and event center has opened near Grand Central Terminal in New York City. The venue features 40,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including the 4,200-square-foot Wharton Ballroom, the 5,000-square-foot Outdoor Garden Terrace, 12 meeting rooms and in-house signature dining. The center was designed to meet International Association of Conference Centers criteria.

Convention Center in Irving, Texas, Will Serve Alcohol
The Irving (Texas) City Council has voted to allow alcohol sales at the Las Colinas convention and entertainment complex. According to the Dallas Morning News, this decision is not sitting well with local restaurateurs, who argue the city is subsidizing an entertainment district that will compete with other Irving businesses. "Our community is going to benefit by the successful operation of an entertainment center," Mayor Herbert Gears told the newspaper. "Every restaurant in town will benefit, as well as every hotel." The new 275,000-square-foot facility -- which will offer a 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall and a 20,000-square-foot ballroom -- is scheduled to open on Oct. 10, 2010.

Hilton Worldwide to Manage Portuguese Hotel
Hilton Worldwide has signed an agreement to manage the Hilton Alvor, a 174-room resort in Alvar, Portugal, in the Algarve region. The beachfront hotel will be a sister property to the Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf Resort and Spa.

Little America Expands Meeting Space
The 850-room Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City has opened three new meeting rooms, adding 4,081 square feet of space. The property now offers a total of 25,613 square feet of meeting space. In addition, the existing 13 conference rooms, including the Grand Ballroom, have been renovated.

New Spa Opens at the Corinthia Hotel Lisbon
The 518-room Corinthia Hotel Lisbon now offers the 32,000-square-foot Malo Spa, with 13 treatment rooms. The luxury property has a 15-room conference center.

Posh New York Hotel Reopens
Last Thursday, the Surrey hotel reopened near Manhattan's Central Park, following a 14-month-long, $60 million renovation. The upscale property now offers the new Spa at the Surrey; the new Bar Pleidas, adjacent to chef Daniel Boulud's famed Cafe Boulud; and 190 redesigned guest rooms, equipped with iPod docking stations, new LCD TVs, and new bedding and linens.

Atlantic City Casino Workers Approve Contract
Employees at six Atlantic City casinos  -- Tropicana Casino and Resort, Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort, Resorts Atlantic City, Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza and Trump Marina -- have approved new two-year contracts. The agreement affects approximately 5,000 food servers, housekeepers and dishwashers represented by Local 54 of Unite Here, the city's largest casino workers union. According to the Press of Atlantic City, the new contracts are similar to one approved in September by union members working at the four Harrah's Entertainment-owned casinos, with one key change: Workers at the six casinos will have their wages frozen during the first year of the deal (Harrah's workers did not have such an agreement).